Greek archaeologists unearth large Bronze Age town on Cycladic island

Wed Sep 14,11:43 AM ET


ATHENS (AFP) - Greek archaeologists have discovered the "well-preserved" remains of a large Bronze Age town dating from at least 1,900 BC on the Cycladic island of Andros, the culture ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.


Archaeologists found at least four "well-preserved" buildings - one of them retaining its ground floor walls - in the remains of a quarter, and a graded road believed to lead to a square.


A variety of mainly ceramic objects was discovered inside the buildings, including large decorated storage jars, pots and vessels, and stone tools, many of them intact.


Researchers also found a number of rock drawings on the edge of the town, which lies on the south-western Cape Plaka near the fortified site of Strofilas, a Neolithic settlement that dates from 4,000 BC.


The drawings portray boats and a combination of other symbols -- a human head surrounded by a pair of arms with open palms, a pair of feet and a circular symbol believed to represent the sun -- that archaeologists suspect corresponds to a divinity worshipped by the town dwellers.


The symbols are similar to sketches found at Strofilas, suggesting that the fortified community's inhabitants moved their lodgings closer to the sea at the end of the Neolithic period, around 3,300 BC.


The still-unnamed coastal town, which provides a "strong link" between the end of the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age in the Cyclades, is suspected to have suffered repeated damage from earthquakes, the ministry said.



Scottish 'Indiana Jones' finds ancient burial path



A VETERAN archaeologist, hailed as Scotland's "Indiana Jones", has discovered one of Egypt's most elusive ancient sites 3,000 years after it was buried in the desert sand.


Ian Mathieson, 78, director of Saqqara Geophysical Survey Project, has located part of a seven-mile ceremonial burial route to the Step Pyramid of Djoser, near Cairo.


Treasure hunters have long tried to pinpoint the Serapeum Way, and in 1798 Napoleon sent 1,000 men.


According to legend, the Greek philosopher Strabo found a partially buried golden sphinx while travelling in 24BC.


A French archeologist, Mariette, unearthed part of the Way, and 134 sphinxes, in 1890 but his notes and the location were lost.


Mr Mathieson, a former civil engineer and surveyor from Edinburgh, said the road was the main ceremonial route lined with ornate sphinxes leading to the underground burial complex of the Serapeum in Saqqara.


Mr Mathieson and his team use geophysical radar equipment which allows them to search for relics without digging on a meagre budget of £10,000. Other European dig teams spend up to £1 million in Egypt alone.


He said: "The images look like an aerial photograph but they are covered with five metres of sand."


In 2002, while looking for the Way, Mr Mathieson accidentally discovered the ancient buried town of Saqqara whose first inhabitants lived in 2500BC.


He will return to Saqqara on Thursday to continue mapping the area.


He said: "Who knows what might be still buried under there?"



Secret of Delphi Found in Ancient Text


Researchers at the University of Leicester have unravelled a 2,700 year old mystery concerning The Oracle of Delphi – by consulting an ancient farmer’s manual.


The researchers from the School of Archaeology and Ancient History sought to explain how people from across Greece came to consult with the Oracle – a hotline to the god Apollo- on a particular day of the year even though there was no common calendar.


Now their findings, published in this month’s edition of the journal Antiquity, suggests celestial signs observed by farmers could also have determined the rituals associated with Apollo Delphinios


Postgraduate student Alun Salt said: “The manual, Works and Days by Hesiod, dating to the eight century BC, describes the right time to plant crops or harvest by observing a variety of signs. One particular event he frequently looked for was the heliacal rising of a star, its first appearance that year in the morning sky.


“I was playing around with a planisphere while suffering from insomnia. This is when I noticed that the constellation Delphinus would have been rising in the eastern sky in late December and early January. This is the same time that some cities were sacrificing to Apollo Delphinios.


“I wondered if ritual events could use the same system described by Hesiod. The problem was that January wasn’t the time Apollo Delphinios was questioned at Delphi. Delphi was a month late compared to other cities. I knew the cliffs at Delphi would delay the rising of Delphinus there, but I didn’t know by how much.”


Efrosyni Boutsikas, a fellow postgraduate at Leicester, had surveyed Delphi as part of her PhD and had the figures. She said: “The temple of Apollo at Delphi is overlooked by huge cliffs to the east. These block out the view of the lower part of the eastern sky. The horizon is so high the stars have to climb a long way before they are visible just before sunrise.


“This means that if you’re holding an early morning ritual like preparing to consult Apollo, and you want to see a constellation, you have to wait around a month after other cities with flat horizons.”


Alun Salt concluded; “The great advantage that constellation spotting has over waiting for the sun to rise over a stone is that this system is portable. It could be used by Greeks across the Mediterranean who wanted to know when to visit Delphi without having to rely on knowing what the local date was in Delphi’s calendar. It also explains why Delphi’s calendar is slightly out of step with calendars in places like Athens.”


Does this make Delphi a Greek Stonehenge? Could this event still be seen by visitors today? Alun Salt is doubtful: “The event still happens, about a month later these days because of the way the Earth’s movement in the heavens has changed since ancient times. The big problem is light pollution. The stars of Delphinus are quite faint. You won’t see them from Athens, and I don’t know if the sky around Delphi is dark enough to make them out. It’s a challenge for anyone at Delphi around the start of February.



The findings are published in this month’s edition of the archaeological journal Antiquity.


Enthusiast uses Google to reveal Roman ruins

Google Earth programme leads to remains of ancient villa.

Declan Butler


© Cultural Ministry Emilia Romagna


Using satellite images from Google Maps and Google Earth, an Italian computer programmer has stumbled upon the remains of an ancient villa. Luca Mori was studying maps of the region around his town of Sorbolo, near Parma, when he noticed a prominent, oval, shaded form more than 500 metres long. It was the meander of an ancient river, visible because former watercourses absorb different amounts of moisture from the air than their surroundings do.


His eye was caught by unusual 'rectangular shadows' nearby. Curious, he analysed the image further, and concluded that the lines must represent a buried structure of human origin. Eventually, he traced out what looked like the inner courtyards of a villa.


Mori, who describes the finding on his blog, Quellí Della Bassa, contacted archaeologists, including experts at the National Archaeological Museum of Parma. They confirmed the find. At first it was thought to be a Bronze Age village, but an inspection of the site turned up ceramic pieces that indicated it was a Roman villa.


"Mori's research is interesting in its approach," says Manuela Catarsi Dall'Aglio, an archaeologist at the National Archaeological Museum of Parma. He says the find may be similar to a villa the museum is currently excavating at Cannetolo di Fontanellato, which was found during the construction of a high-speed rail network. "Only a scientific, archeological dig will tell," he adds.


The local authorities will have to approve any archaeological digs before they can take place.





Date Published: Wednesday 14 September 2005

Dig throws new light on Stonehenge mystery

by David Vallis


THREE weeks of excavations at Durrington Walls have been helping to throw new light on the mysteries of the Stonehenge World Heritage site.


The dig, which started on August 21 and is due to end today (September 15) has attracted interest from eminent archaeologists, who have been regularly visiting the site since the work got underway.


And last Saturday and Sunday members of the public got the chance to view the excavations and talk to members of the team carrying out the research project.


The visits were arranged as part of last week's Heritage Open Days and included demonstration of Neolithic craft, performed by a re-enactment group. Durrington Walls lies close to Woodhenge and is one of the key prehistoric monuments of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site.


It is a circular henge enclosure - the largest of its kind in Britain - and is surrounded by a bank and ditch that is even bigger than that at Avebury.


And it was built at the same time as the first stones were put up at Stonehenge.


The latest excavations have been taking place as part of the Stonehenge Riverside Research Project, with the aim of exploring the links between Durrington Walls, the River Avon and Stonehenge.


It is believed the once massive circular earthwork, which was about 500 metres (about a third of mile) in diameter, was erected for rituals and feasts - such as midsummer pig roasts.


And new excavations have revealed traces of a causeway or walkway, leading from Durrington Walls to the Avon, about 30-metres away.


This, say archaeologist suggests the dead were ritualistically carried from the earthworks to the river, where their remains were deposited.


Archaeologists and students from Salisbury and the universities of Bournemouth, Sheffield, Manchester, Bristol and London have been carrying out the excavations and some of the work has been filmed by Channel 4's Time Team for a programme to be shown next spring.



Medieval ancestors measured up to our height standards

By Norman Hammond, Archaeology Correspondent


OUR ANCESTORS were as tall as we are, contrary to popular belief. Over the past five millennia the average height of men in Britain has remained stable at about 170cm (5ft 7in), and that of women at 160cm (5ft 3in). We may be surprised at how small the armour worn by the Black Prince or King Henry V was, but such giants on the battlefield were not physically large and were towered over by contemporaries of all classes.


“The enduring myth that people in the past were much shorter than we are today contains a small element of truth,” writes Sebastian Payne, chief scientist at English Heritage, in British Archaeology. “There have been small changes, and average height has increased by an inch or so over the past 50 years,” he says, attributing the increase to better health and nutrition.


The myth seems to stem from such things as low doorways on some medieval houses, and the small suits of clothes and armour in museums. But Dr Payne says that there are plenty of tall doors, and we simply don’t register “normally” sized outfits. “Recruits in 18th and 19th-century military records were considerably below today’s average heights,” he says, but adds: “Recruits are often from poorer families whose average height is less, and were often not fully grown.”


In the abandoned medieval village of Wharram Percy in Yorkshire, the churchyard has yielded hundreds of skeletons for analysis. There “ten-year-olds were around 8in shorter than children today: by the time they were fully grown they were nearly as tall as modern adults”.


A study by Charlotte Roberts and Margaret Cox, drawing together evidence of stature from skeletons across the country, shows that adult heights in both sexes have remained constant since the Neolithic era.


British Archaeology No 84: 51



Your passport to the Past


It's September and that means right now people are taking part in the Council for Scottish Archaeology's Scottish Archaeology Month, and learning more about archaeology and the history of their local area.


Throughout September over 150 FREE events are taking place all over Scotland. Highlights so far have included discovering why the Romans hid hoards of coins at Birnie in Aberdeenshire; digging with archaeologists at an ongoing excavation at The Newbarns Project, Dalbeattie; meeting Iron Age farmers in Holyrood Park, Edinburgh ; taking a guided walk around Thomas Telford's Lower Pulteneytown, near Wick; and discovering the secrets of the Vikings Runes at Maeshowe tomb on Orkney.


Don't worry, there's still two more weeks to go, so there's plenty of time to get involved. There are lots of hands-on activities for children, and more leisurely activities for those of you who prefer a slower pace. Some events to look out for this weekend are:-

*          Archaeo-Aware! - your chance to meet archaeologists and take

part in a "mini dig" and get something you have found identified (10am - 5pm, 17th & 18th September, Archaeolink Prehistory Park, Oyne)

*          The Lothians: From Myth to Mystery - find out how an archaeology

unit works and what it does as AOC Archaeology throws open its door for a day (11am - 3pm, 17th September, AOC Archaeology Group, Loanhead)

*          Crookston Castle Chronicles - a chance to hear stories about the

characters of 15th Century Crookston Castle told by the resident storytellers (10am - 4pm, 18th September, Crookston Castle, Pollok)

*          Brochs of the Northeast - join Dr Andrew Heald for a guided walk

around the brochs at Keiss and visit the recently excavated Nybster broch (2pm, 18th September, meeting at Keiss harbour, location)


Scottish Archaeology Month is an annual event, organised by the CSA with support from Historic Scotland.  The event runs in conjunction with Doors Open Days, which is co-ordinated by The Scottish Civic Trust.  The two events form Scotland's contribution to European Heritage Days, a joint initiative between the Council of Europe and the European Union to give people a greater understanding of each other and the evolution of our cultural heritage.




Notes to Editors


1.         For further details and information about Scottish Archaeology Month please go to www.scottisharchaeology.org.uk or contact the CSA Tel: 0131 247 4119  Fax: 0131 247 4126.


2.         The Council for Scottish Archaeology is a voluntary membership organisation, which works to secure the archaeological heritage of Scotland for its people through education, promotion and support.  CSA's current membership includes over 800 individuals, 55 societies and 70 other organisations.


3.         The three main principles upon which CSA's activities are founded are as follows: 

*          Education both formal and informal, concerning Scotland's archaeological heritage;

*          Promotion of the conservation, management, understanding and enjoyment of, and access to, Scotland's archaeological heritage;

*          Support through the provision of advice, guidance, resources and information relating to archaeology in Scotland.

4.         CSA is based at the National Museums of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1JF.


5.         The President of the CSA is Stephen Carter; the Director Eila Macqueen; and the Scottish Archaeology Month Co-ordinator is Abigail Daly.


6.         CBA co-ordinates the Young Archaeologists' Club Scottish Network.


7.         Historic Scotland is an Agency of the Scottish Executive's Education Department.


8.         Further information about CSA is available from www.scottisharchaeology.org.uk  


9.         For Doors Open Days information contact The Scottish Civic Trust on Tel: 0141 221 1466 or Fax: 0141 248 6952



Re Doors open Day. If you are in or near Glasgow this weekend go and see the Britannia Music Hall in Trongate - it is absolutely amazing. This is the hall in which Stan Laurel first appeared on a stage and Cary Grant was part of a troupe of acrobats (still called Archie Leach then of course). It was discovered almost completely preserved inside a furniture store about 20 years ago with loads of artefacts still in situ - playbills and so on, some ancient films including one called Lynching which turned out to be just that

 - a lynching in the southern USA. Some waxworks and personal things. The commonest find was buttons from trouser flies!!






By David Prudames


 Photo: looking at the Saqqara site, it's hard to imagine an entire town lurking under the featureless sands stretching away to pyramids in the distance.

With nothing but miles of sand in all directions, it is hard to imagine the leap of faith required to start looking for a previously unknown town, buried under a desert.

On Saturday September 13, Scottish archaeologist Ian Mathieson will be delivering a lecture at Glasgow’s Burrell Collection to explain how he did just that.

Since 1990, Ian has led the Saqqara Geophysical Survey Project, producing archaeological and geophysical maps of a little explored area of the Saqqara necropolis, near Cairo.

In 2001, his survey turned up the previously unknown presence of some large temples, accompanied by a number of tombs and a mixture of large and small dwellings.

Photo: the man himself, archaeologist Ian Mathieson surveying on site at Saqqara.

Ian and his team had discovered an ancient town, dating back to between the 6th and 1st centuries BCE, buried under almost 20 feet of sand.

Simon Eccles, Senior Curator at the Burrell Collection and Chairman of Egyptology Scotland, told the 24 Hour Museum how Ian is paying a flying visit before heading straight back to Egypt.

"It is a great privilege to have him," said Simon. "He is a member of Egyptology Scotland and we exist to promote it, so we are very lucky that he is coming fresh from the site to give us an update on what’s happening."

Previously sponsored by the National Museums of Scotland, since 2002 Ian's work has been supported by Glasgow Museums through its Friends organisation.

Simon explained how Ian and his team had been working in the shadow of the famous Step Pyramid of Djoser, which outdates the Valley of the Kings by some 1000 years.

"This is quite an important area near Cairo, beside the Step Pyramid. On the surface of the desert it is formless, so Ian’s concession was to use geophysical survey techniques to find out what, if anything, was there."

According to the curator, the survey results created "a kind of map that looks very much like an aerial photograph" and provided outlines of buildings.

Describing the town as being like an ancient Egyptian Lourdes, Simon explained how it housed priests and workmen and could have been a place of pilgrimage where people came to make offerings.

Recent surveys have turned up what appears to be a road leading into the town, lined with parallel emplacements. It is difficult to say what they are without a full excavation, but there is one theory.

Photo: a member of Ian's team carrying out a gradiometer survey, which discovered temple alignments, a road and the settlement.

"The geophysical map shows a line with 2 black marks along it and ceremonial ways are quite often bordered by sphinxes, but we don’t know yet," said Simon.

What is certain, however, is that without Ian Mathieson's surveys, we wouldn't even know it is there, let alone what it is.

"I think Ian is breaking new ground to show how it is possible for a small team to make discoveries using these modern techniques," added Simon.

"This is a whole new town that doesn’t have a new settlement on top. It is a wonderful discovery and means that in future years a major institution should be able to take on the work to dig it up."